The Big 2024 Central Division Schedule Preview

February 14, 2024
By Adam Ruffner

Jump to each team section.

Chicago Union

2023 regular season record: 6-6, Finished 3rd in Central Division | 2024 schedule

Chicago’s three-game skid and first round playoff exit to conclude the 2023 season soured an otherwise impressive rebuilding year. The post Pawel Janas era was sure to be filled with growing pains, and Chicago’s offensive struggles from last season certainly revealed some scar tissue. But the Union have now made four consecutive postseason appearances, and rumors have been swirling about some big name additions on the horizon.  

One Big Like: Benjamin Preiss’s midseason shift to offense

Preiss’s pro resume had a five-year gap between his rookie season with the Breeze in 2018 and last year’s debut campaign with the Union, so it was originally hard to get a read on what the 6’1” Carleton College CUT product could bring to his new team. At the beginning of the 2023 season, Preiss operated as a lanky defender and ruthless give-and-go thrower on the counterattack, helping Chicago grind out break scores in hotly contested wins against Madison and Minnesota. 

As Chicago’s early season successes began to fade and the team experienced the churn of midseason play, Preiss was flipped into an offensive handler role in an attempt to stabilize a disorganized Union O-line. The result was four 200-plus receiving yard performances in six starts and an average of nearly five scores per game, with Preiss continually using his legs and uptempo pace to set up his throws. And as a rhythm player, if the Chicago offense does get hot at some point, Preiss could find himself in a breakout position.

One Big Question: Can Chicago find a rhythm?

There were pieces and moments from last season that showed glimpses of Chicago’s pedigree as a contender in the division. But far too often their play was plagued by self inflicted mistakes and coverage gaps, which led to big runs for opponents; Chicago was tied 2-2 with Indy with five minutes remaining in the first quarter of their playoff match, and then surrendered a 5-0 scoring run by the Alleycats (and essentially the game) with a series of unforced throwaways. 

The Union are a solid team with good bones, and they could have another shot at a divisional title game in a wide open division if they solidify their lineups and approach.

One Big Home Matchup: May 31 vs Madison

Despite the Union earning the third and final Central Division playoff spot last season, the Radicals had the last laugh in their head-to-head matchups with a five-goal win at Chicago on July 21. This is one of the oldest and most even rivalries that goes back over a decade, and the winner of the season series usually goes on to qualify for the postseason.

One Big Stat: Chicago’s offense didn’t just average the fewest holds per game (11.38) in the league last season, but registered the lowest mark since 2015.

One Big 2023 Play: The mind-boggling Jake Steslicki buzzer beater to end the third quarter in Chicago’s Memorial Day Weekend win in Madison.

Detroit Mechanix

2023 regular season record: 0-12, Finished 6th in Central Division | 2024 schedule

The Mechanix currently have more consecutive losses (74) than the AlleyCats have total (73) in their entire franchise’s 11-season existence. Detroit did show improvements on offense a season ago, and every new calendar presents more opportunities to break the streak. But with each opponent now treating matchups with the Mechanix as a bizarro Super Bowl—who would want the infamy?—it’s tough to see an end in sight.

One Big Like: Deep shot selection

Detroit committed the second fewest huck turnovers per game last season, and just two years removed from finishing in the bottom five of the league. The Mechanix are no longer hucking and hoping, and have become more reliant on their offensive system to earn scores.

Joseph Cubitt had the highest huck completion percentage in 2023 (81.5 percent) in the UFA among throwers with at least 20 huck completions. If Bryan Walsh can return healthy, or another Mechanix deep thrower can emerge alongside Cubitt, Detroit might have the beginnings of a real offensive attack.

One Big Question: Will Detroit win a game?

It’s the simplest premise, and yet six-plus years in I’m no closer to answering it. 

One Big Home Matchup: May 4 vs Chicago

Detroit’s last win was on April 29, 2017 against Chicago, which would make it almost seven years to the day if the Mechanix were able to close the hellmouth and win their 2024 home opener.

One Big Stat: The Mechanix finished last season fourth in the UFA in huck completion rate (66.9 percent), over six percentage points higher than the previous season.

One Big 2023 Play: Joe Cubitt saves possession with a shoulder high catch and unleashes the huck assist.

Indianapolis AlleyCats

2023 regular season record: 9-3, Finished 2nd in Central Division | 2024 schedule

The AlleyCats have improved their win total in back-to-back seasons, and have made the playoffs in four of the past five years. Head Coach Drew Shepherd has helmed one of the most disciplined lineups in the league, with a veteran offense that limits mistakes and a defense that has been tidy at converting break opportunities. Indy has the benefit of the second easiest schedule in the league this season, which could prove vital in what is a perennially contested Central Division playoff race.

One Big Like: Spread offense

With four offensive starters completing more than 340 passes last year, Indy doesn’t really operate with a central thrower, which allows them a variety of attack points. Players like Travis Carpenter, Xavier Payne, Lucas Coniaris, and Keegan North can all take turns as primary facilitators on any given drive, but the O-line finds its rhythm the more it gets all seven players on the field involved as throwers; it doesn’t hurt having the all-time leading goal scorer Cameron Brock to cash in possessions. 

The ‘Cats are one of the more underrated teams at cycling their O-line players between backfield and downfield positions, giving fluidity to their drives and making them one of the five most efficient offenses in 2023. That—as well as playing home games at the friendly indoor confines of Grand Park—allowed Indy to have eight games last season with 13 or fewer turnovers.

One Big Question: Can Indy’s team discipline help them continue their ascent in the standings?

The AlleyCats have been one of the best teams in the league in terms of developing and maximizing roster talent for years, and this season will be no exception. But when it comes to one-on-one matchups against the divisional (and UFA) elite, Indy has had trouble going toe-to-toe; the AlleyCats are 0-10 versus teams with winning records the past two seasons,  and most notably the Wind Chill own six of those wins, including both playoff elimination games. 

One Big Home Matchup: May 18 vs Atlanta

The last time the AlleyCats hosted the Hustle in 2019, the two teams put up a collective 59 goals in a seven-point Atlanta win. Indoors heavily favors offense, and Indy will have to figure out a way to slow down the Hustle and their top three offensive attack. 

One Big Stat: No player among Indy’s seven offensive starters had a completion rate below 94.3 percent last season. The AlleyCats as a team finished third in the UFA in completion percentage in 2023.

One Big 2023 Play: Keegan North going full extension and firing the half field assist in the eventual one-goal road game win.

Madison Radicals

2023 regular season record: 4-8, Finished 5th in Central Division | 2024 schedule

The Radicals are still looking for the right balance of young playmaking and veteran leadership that has eluded them since their 2018 title. Last year was the first losing season in Madison’s franchise history, and the second straight campaign they went 2-4 at Breese Stevens Field, their formerly impenetrable home fortress. But with an 0-6 record in games decided by two goals or fewer in 2023, the Radicals could reverse a lot of their poor results by limiting late game execution errors. 

One Big Like: Controlling the tempo

With their lack of explosives on offense, and a defense that relies on zone cover schemes to slow down opponents, the Radicals often find themselves in low-scoring slugfests where clock management and number of possessions play a key role; just three times during the 2023 season did a Radicals game top a total score of 40 goals; Madison was in so many close games because they constrain overall scoring with their play on both sides of the disc.  

When the Radicals were a perennial playoff contender, this ratchet-like formula of tight defense and patient, efficient offense worked wonders because it didn’t rely on big plays or a high scoring output. Madison likely won’t have much firepower on offense again in 2024, so a methodical approach could put them back in contention.

One Big Question: Will Madison end their playoff drought?

For a team that made three league championship game appearances in their first six seasons, the past few years have been tumultuous, at best, for Madison. If the Radicals miss the playoffs again this season, their years absent from the postseason (6) will equal the number of Championship Weekend appearances they made from 2013 through 2018. Three different rival teams have occupied the Central Division throne since Madison’s reign was summarily overthrown, leaving the Radicals in a bit of exile until they can get back to winning at home and making the playoffs again. 

One Big Home Matchup: June 14 vs Colorado

Madison used to dominate their divisional matchups, and then succumb to the rare interdivisional foe at home. With their fate reversed the past few seasons, it might be time for the Radicals to take down a top team from the West; Madison is 1-3 all-time against West Division opponents. 

One Big Stat: After leading the league in opponent huck success rate in 2022, Madison tumbled to second worst last season and surrendered completions on over 68 percent of opponent’s deep attempts.

One Big 2023 Play: Kai DeLorenzo uncorking the unorthodox hammer throw for the assist.

Minnesota Wind Chill

2023 regular season record: 10-2, Finished 1st in Central Division | 2024 schedule

Even though their 2023 season ended in another playoff heartbreaker, Minnesota enters the 2024 season as the favorites to win the division for a second straight year. And like their Wisconsin rivals of old, the Wind Chill have built their successes on a championship-level defense and winning games at home; Minnesota has won nine straight at Sea Foam Stadium, including all seven games in 2023, and has a 17-3 record at home going back to 2021. The Wind Chill host both of their toughest regular season opponents this season—Colorado and New York—and could be a dark horse title contender if their offensive efficiency improves. 

One Big Like: Pressure off the pull

No team took advantage of the new pulling rules last season quite like the Minnesota defense, who routinely punished opposing offenses with starting positions inside of their own end zone. The hard to handle pulls of rookies Sam Berglund and Cameron Lacy were instrumental in disrupting called plays on opposing drives, often scattering O-line handlers and wreaking havoc at the start of drives. 

The disarray and confusion on what are typically easy resets and establishing throws allowed Dylan DeClerck and the rest of the Minnesota D-line to feast, blitzing throwing lanes and leading the league in takeaways. The Wind Chill figure to return most-if-not-all of their starting defensive rotation, which could mean this young unit gets even better.

One Big Question: Can Minnesota’s defense keep them on top of the division?

After what they did to Salt Lake’s league leading offense in the semifinals, there is little to no doubt about the caliber of the Wind Chill defense. But the onslaught and consistency of Minnesota’s blocks and break scores obscured the struggles the offense endured for much of last season; the Wind Chill are one of just two teams since 2017 to make the final four with an offensive conversion rate below 50 percent. Minnesota never really settled on an offensive rotation last season, so it’s tough to tell if there will be improvement in the near term future.

One Big Home Matchup: July 12 vs New York

Minnesota was a tip drill away from meeting the Empire in last season’s championship game. New York’s defense will be the toughest test ever for the Wind Chill offense, and their late season match will have significant playoff ramifications not just for the Central and East divisions, but for potential seeding at Championship Weekend, too.

One Big Stat: The Wind Chill have been top four in defensive break rate in each of the past three seasons, and in 2023 became the first franchise since the 2016-17 Radicals to have back-to-back seasons above 36 percent.

One Big 2023 Play: Bryan Vohnoutka ripping it down and dishing the assist to convert the break score in the fourth quarter of the semifinals.

Pittsburgh Thunderbirds

2023 regular season record: 5-7, Finished 4th in Central Division | 2024 schedule

The Thunderbirds ranked in the top half of the league both offensively and defensively in 2023, and finished the season with a positive point differential. But Pittsburgh’s inability to close out tight contests has hamstrung their development, putting them in the wrong half of the divisional standings the past few years. Max Sheppard always gives their offense a playmaking spark, and the defense can keep them in games. 

One Big Like: Underrated defense

For a unit that finished top 10 in goals allowed per game and break rate, the Thunderbirds D-line doesn’t get enough love. There’s no discernible star—the now-retired vet Steve Mogielski led the team with 14 blocks last year—but Pittsburgh defenders are focused in single coverage and don’t give up many easy scores.

One Big Question: Which Thunderbirds player can step into a bigger role in 2024?

In 2023, Carl Johnson played like one of the five best receivers in the division in his first year with the team, giving Pittsburgh’s offense another 40-plus goal scorer alongside Sheppard. With Mogielski gone, and questions about their defensive depth, the Thunderbirds will need a similar effort from one of their rotation players on D-line. 

One Big Home Matchup: May 11 vs Madison

Pittsburgh’s Week 1 win over the Radicals last season was one of just two non-Detroit games from 2023 where both the Thunderbirds’ offense and defense finished with conversion rates above 50 percent. And with four other home games against playoff-level competition in 2024, the T-Birds will need to win this early season matchup in order to avoid a possible one-win season at home. 

One Big Stat: Pittsburgh is 1-7 over the past two seasons in games decided by two goals or fewer.

One Big 2023 Play: Max Sheppard calling game to win their home opener.